Today, we have Ed Jolley, writer over at the Adventure Gameblog who, over the last two years, has written many many playthroughs of all kinds of gamebooks and solo adventures. Here is Ed to talk about himself…
Tell us about yourself.
An avid reader and writer for about as long as I can remember. Started reading and writing gamebooks in 1983. A bit of a pedant, with a good memory for trivia (not so great at remembering stuff like names and phone numbers, alas), a mildly bizarre sense of humour, and an imagination that goes to some very strange places at times. Currently not in paid employment, and doing a fair bit of voluntary work for my church.
What inspired you to start your blog?
It started with the Fighting Dantasy blog. I enjoyed reading it (and a couple of other playthrough blogs that subsequently started up), but a couple of things struck me. Firstly, they tended to focus just on FF. Secondly, the bloggers weren’t all that familiar with most of the books they were playing. Neither of which is a bad thing in itself, but as there’s a lot more to my gamebook collection than just FF, and I know a significant number of the books ridiculously well, that meant that I could bring something new to the gamebook blogging scene.
At the now-lost eamped.com FF forum I created a thread for playing through the FF books in order and posting the results, and a chap with the username Wilf started putting playthroughs in there, so I decided to do likewise. My particular mix of trivia, silliness and snark seemed to go down well with other readers, so when I got to the end of the series, I decided to act on the ‘maybe I should do my own gamebook blog’ idea that had been rattling around in my head for a while.
What was your favourite gamebook to write about?
So far, I think it’s Robin Waterfield and Wilfred Davies’ The Money Spider, from the Webs of Intrigue series. It was one of many that I’d barely given any attention since originally acquiring it, but when I sat down to play it properly, I got really drawn into it. I stayed up until stupid o’clock to finish it, and was mildly gutted to get so close to the end and wind up without quite enough evidence to bring the criminals to justice.
What spoils a gamebook for you?
All sorts of things. Illogical decisions. Meaningless choices. Boring sequences. Bad design. Excessive difficulty. Unfairness. Indications that the author would much rather be writing a novel than a gamebook, or has contempt for the readers. Long chains of sections with no decisions.
What makes a gamebook stand out for you?
Atmosphere and humour enhance a gamebook – though the humour has to actually be funny. Engaging characters make a huge difference. I’m often impressed by subtlety – little hints at a bigger picture, revelations that, if you think about them, put a startling new perspective on what’s happened before, that sort of thing. Convincing personal stakes – something that makes you care about the outcome at a deeper level than just not wanting to lose.
What is the hardest thing about writing a gamebook?
Working out what needs saying and what doesn’t. Things should happen for a reason, but the readers don’t need to know all the details. The tricky part is judging where to draw the line. The heftiest bit of rewriting I had to do in response to playtester feedback on Return to the Icefinger Mountains was to clarify one character’s motivation, because while I knew exactly why they’d done what they did, I had failed to communicate enough of that to make their action seem logical. It took a few more drafts to make it suitably informative without being overlong..
What is the most exciting thing about writing a gamebook?
Concept becoming reality. Planning a gamebook isn’t the same as planning a standard work of fiction, and I find there are often unexpected developments as I try to turn the terse flowchart summary into full sections. In a similar vein, seeing the illustrations, where someone else has taken some of the scenes I came up with and given them form.
What advice would you offer to someone who thinks that they want to write their own gamebook?
Aim high. Be prepared for a lot of work. Planning is essential. But be willing to deviate from that plan if it’ll make the gamebook better. And then plan out the changes, think through the effect they could have on later stages of the adventure. Understand your characters. Playtest thoroughly when the gamebook’s done – even the sequences off the optimal paths.
What plans do you have for the future?
Continue with the blog. Recently I’ve been spending a lot less time on it because of stuff going on in the rest of my life, but I hope to get back to more frequent updates and cover the 150+ gamebooks still on the list, then replay some of the books I didn’t do justice the first time round. I also want to get back to my unfinished gamebooks, The Sanguine Wave and The Great Blacksand Robbery, and complete them. And I have an idea for another shorter one that could go in Fighting Fantazine, with the working title The Hoard of the Deep-Witch.
Do you have any non-gamebook projects?
A fair bit of unfinished non-interactive fiction. And I’d like to do something with the stories I have finished. Give the novels a polish and try to get published. See if the leader of the community choir I’m in is interested in developing any of the songs I wrote a while ago.
What is your wish for gamebooks?
More, and better. It’s good to see new stuff coming out, and some of it’s great, but several of the more recently published gamebooks I’ve read have been disappointing. That’s ‘disappointing’ in the sense of ‘evoking a strong desire to hurl the book across the room, then jump up and down on it’. Satisfying as it can be to have a real rant on the blog, I’d much rather post about having fun playing a gamebook.